Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Teaching English During the Rainy Season

Well, the rainy season has arrived.

To most people this doesn't sound like a big deal.  But I would have to say that most people haven't had to navigate public transportation while the streets of a major metropolitan city are flooded.

Let me explain.  Santiago is notorious for having a poor (ok, nonexistent) drainage system.  When the weather forecast shows rain in the winter time here, people usually are pretty serious about being prepared.  English teachers included.

Monday actually wasn´t that bad of a day with the rain.  I had a class in my apartment, then another in Ñuñoa.  I could have walked there, but given the weather forecast (ok, that´s a bad excuse, I was actually feeling lazy) I decided to take a bus.  At that point it hadn´t started raining yet, but when I got out of that class at 2:30 it was raining cats and dogs.  I had some time to kill, so I got some tea and Dunkin Donuts at the nearby mall before getting a bus to my next class.  It turns out I actually beat the family home, as they had stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things.

After standing in the rain for about five minutes, I was happy to be inside and warm. (Don´t worry, I had an umbrella with me!) The mom asked me if I wanted some Peruvian food, and how could I say no?  So she heated it up for me while I taught her daughter and drank some hot tea.

Towards the end of class, she told me that she had to run an errand and offered to drive me home.  Given this weather I was very relieved.  As she drove me home we drove through huge puddles and streets where the water went up over the curb.  When cars and buses drove through the water they soaked the poor pedestrians walking by.  Luckily I was able to dash inside without getting to wet.

When I got inside, I turned on my space heater and took a hot shower.  As I was doing some lesson planning I noticed on Facebook that the Ministry of Education had cancelled school on Tuesday for all public and private schools in Santiago.  The rain was still going strong, and more of it was expected for Tuesday.

On Tuesday I was expecting a long day, so I prepared myself with lunch for on the go, all my teaching materials, and an extra pair of socks and underwear in case I got soaked halfway through the day.  (And no, I´m not kidding about that).   I just thought to empty out my bookbag and set it my the space heater to dry off.  What do you know?  The extra pair of socks and underwear got wet inside.  It´s a good thing I didn´t need them!

So my morning class in Providencia was fine.  I just took a colectivo and had a ten minute walk there, and the rain wasn´t that bad yet.  After that, it was a short walk to Starbucks while I waited for my next class.

My lunch class was the one I was dreading, though.  After killing about an hour and a half at Starbucks, I decided to head out and get the bus to Las Condes.  It´s only about 25 minutes by bus from where I was, but the distance and then traveling back is a bit of a pain.  By this time it had started coming down like cats and dogs.

I arrived about 10 minutes early, and so I went to wait in my student´s office.  As I noticed no lights were on,  I had a sinking feeling.  My suspicions were confirmed when a coworker popped her head in asking who I was waiting for.  After a quick phone call, she confirmed that my student wasn´t in the office today.

I normally don´t mind a situation like this, but given the rain and the fact that I could have left Starbucks earlier and taught my other classes earlier I was a bit annoyed.  I tried calling the father of the kids class I teach next, but he wasn´t answering his phone.  I decided to go to the kids class early and hope that they were home and able to take class when I arrived.  There´s no point in getting frustrated about things I can´t change, I told myself.

The rain has gotten even harder, and the curb is close to overflowing at the bus stop.  After about 8 buses went by that weren´t taking the route I needed, I was finally able to get on.  One more bus, and I was a five minute walk from my next class.  On Manquehue (one of the main roads in the Las Condes area of Santiago) the road was completely flooded.  There was no way I was going to cross the street without getting wet up to my ankles, so I just got across as quickly as I could.

When I arrived the mom was on her way to work, so she let me in through the gate.  The only problem was now that there wasn´t a doorbell inside.  I knocked on the door about ten times before one of my puzzled students answered the door.  She seemed surprised to see me, and once I was inside I explained the situation to her.

Luckily, her and her brother were fine with having class an hour earlier than normal.  They had friends over since they had the day off from school, so I included them in the classes and we played games the entire time.  It made for a nice class and was a good way to get my mind off of the weather.

Afterwards I was supposed to teach another class.  Given the 25 minute walk crossing multiple flooded streets I called up the family and told them I was cancelling the class.  They were very understanding, and so I started to make my way home.

I crossed Manquehue again, so that meant more soaked feet and squishy shoes.  One bus transfer later, and I´m at Pedro de Valdivia with Bilbao.  Another transfer later, and I´m about 3 blocks from my apartment.  A few more ankle deep street crossings and I´m home free.

Just to prove that I´m not making this up or exaggerating here are some pictures I snapped from earlier today:

This was at the intersection of Manquehue with Colon.
First intersection on my way home.

If you´re not careful you will get soaked by
the huge puddles.
Here you can see the water coming up over the curb.
This was on Irarrazaval, near my apartment.
The last intersection I had to wade through to get home
It turns out that I´m not the only one amused by the weather.  I came across two memes about the rain:

Gentleman, it has been an honor playing with you.
Stay calm, it´s not raining!
The last picture shows Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile.  She has been widely criticized for not acknowledging a tsunami alert after the 2010 earthquake when the danger was imminent, and people died in the tsunami as a result.  This last meme is a joke regarding the weather these past two days.

I´m glad to have made it home as dry as I did, and I know that tomorrow the sky will be clear and the air will be clean.  Even though it does make my life more difficult as a traveling English teacher, I think a few days of rain and some squishy shoes are worth it in the end.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Exciting News

So here´s an email I just received from IATEFL Chile:

"Dear Daniel,

Thank you very much for submitting your proposal to the IATEFL IV Regional Conference 2013 in Valdivia.

We are pleased to tell you that our panel of reviewers has approved your presentation for inclusion in the conference and we very much look forward to seeing you at Universidad Austral de Chile in June."

I love conferences and opportunities to network and develop professionally, and I´m really excited.  There are so many language teachers out there that have great ideas and want to share and improve their teaching practice, and IATEFL (The International Association for the Teaching of Foreign Languages) Chile is the perfect venue to do that.

In order to attend this conference, I'll be taking an overnight bus from Santiago to Valdivia.  Flights to Valdivia seem to be pretty scarce, and there aren't any available the dates that I need.  I've found a nice bed and breakfast that I'll stay at during my time there. Now I have to decide if I want to do the 12 hour bus ride back again overnight on Saturday night or if I prefer to leave on Sunday morning to get back to Santiago on Sunday night.

Well enough about worrying about that now!  Time to enjoy the good news and celebrate!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Soccer Fans, Social Gatherings, and Fantasilandia

It's a relaxing Sunday morning, and I'm updating from my favorite coffee shop Condi in Ñuñoa.

Last weekend ended with an unexpected adventure.  I went to La Vega to stock up on meat and veggies, and on the bus ride home the bus was overtaken by soccer fans.  Somehow a stray dog also made it onto the bus.  They began chanting, singing, and banging on everything.  After about a minute of this they seemed distracted enough that I decided to take out my Ipod touch to record their antics.  Here´s a short video that I was able to take:

You can´t tell in the video, but the poor dog seemed bewildered and was trying to find a place to lay down.  About 30 seconds after putting my Ipod touch safely into my pocket, one of the soccer fans caught on to what I had done.  He started yelling in my face and tried grabbing for my pocket.  I feigned ignorance and surprise, and luckily about 10 seconds later they all got off the bus to walk the rest of the way.

After asking some friends I found out that there was a soccer game at noon that day.  (I was on the bus at 11).  Lesson learned: soccer fans don´t like you documenting their antics.  It left me a bit shook up, but I´m very grateful that it didn´t get any worse than it did.

This week was pretty social for me by my standards.  I went out with my friend Liz to a place called Mamut celebrate her birthday.  We came to Chile at the same time, and we both stuck around past our year with TeachingChile.  She has become a university professor and is incredibly hardworking and an excellent friend, and I really enjoyed catching up with her.

Happy Birthday Liz!
No matter what I did I couldn´t get this picture to  dsiplay with a landscape view!
In the middle of the week one of my friends invited me out to get pizza with her and a bunch of people who work at her school.  The school has zero resources, and the teachers at the school are very hardworking and want to give the kids the best education they can given their situation.  We´re going to see about ways we can share information and work together to help the kids out.  It was interesting meeting some new people.

On Friday I had lunch with Ceci, the girl who I met at the wedding down in Concepción, and her niece.  I decided to try a tortilla española with chorizo (literally a Spanish tortilla with sausage, but more like a potato omlette), and after our meal we decided to get some ice cream.  Since it was cool I opted for some hot chocolate.  It was great seeing her again and getting to catch up.

Yesterday was a repeat of an adventure that I have had before: Fantasilandia.

I enjoy going back each time, as I really enjoy amusement parks and roller coasters.  This time I went with Phoenix.  If you haven´t checked out his blog yet, here it is!

Due to slow service at the grocery store I was running late, and he actually arrived to my apartment before I did.  We decided to have a gringo smoothie before heading out, and then of course we got on the wrong bus going there.  (OK, this was my fault.  I thought all buses going down Grecia connected to Matta and eventually went to Parque O´Higgins.)

We arrived at about 12:15, shortly after the park opened.  The weather was beautiful, and there weren´t a lot of people there.  It was about 75 and sunny, and the longest line we waited in was about 25 minutes.

We went on three rides first: Ikarus, Raptor and Kamikaze:

View from the top of Ikarus
Getting ready to ride Raptor

On the ride up....
And on the ride down!
In the middle of a corkscrew loop

I found this sign on the Kamikaze amusing:

In case the ride gets stuck: 1. Stay seated.  2. Wait for instructions from
the ride operator.  Seeing that I´m strapped in I don´t know what I would do otherwise.
That was fun!  THen we decided to walk around a bit.  As we went past the log flume, the following conversation ensued:

Me: I don't know about you, but I'm not in the mood to get wet.
Phoenix: That's something I should have taken care of earlier.
Me (very confused): Getting wet?
Phoenix: No.  I need to find a restroom.

After using the restroom, 2 non-functioning hands dryers, and getting a gourmet lunch, we decided to give some more rides a go.

Some of the rides like the bumper cars and Wild Mouse were pretty tranquil.

But another ride we went on would have some serious problems passing safety inspections in the States.

I don´t know if you can tell from this picture or not, but there are no seat belts.  You just hang on for dear life while the ride spins around and jostles you all over the place.  You would literally bounce a few feet off your seat, and I wouldn´t want to imagine what would happen if you lost your grip.  I can truly say I´ve never been on a ride like that before.

We went on a few more rides before calling it a day.  Evolution took up completely upside down and spinning.  Here are some pictures to give you an idea about what it was like:

The park´s newest ride is called Air Race:

One thing really stood out on my visit this time.  I don't know if it's just me, but I never remember noticing so many sexual images during my visit there before.  Here are some examples:

I don´t remember Kid Ikarus being anything like this when
I played it on Nintendo growing up, nor do I remember learning
about Greek mythology like this in school!

All in all, Fantasilandia was a great day and a great escape from the stress of the workweek.

Happy Sunday and Happy Mother's Day to everyone reading!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A New Start, Another Gringo Breakfast, Customer Service Adventures, and Yet Another Nonadventure

So this past week was pretty busy.

In my last post I left everyone hanging as to what I´m doing now that I´ve left Grants English.  I have started with another institute called Eclass.  It´s also based in Santiago and offers classes to business people wanting to learn English.  There are a few differences that really stand out compared to Grants.  Eclass also offers classes at colegios (K to 12 schools) and universities, and this is something I´ve been looking to explore for a while.  They are also much bigger and as a result have a lot more staff and organization.  Eclass also uses blended learning, meaning that students do online work once a week and then have classes with a teacher once a week.  It´s an interesting concept that really makes students take more responsibility for their learning, and I´m curious to see how it works out with the classes I have.

I had induction, and it became clear to me that Eclass has high and clear expectations of its teachers.  Everything was laid out and explained to us, and I will be doing a good amount of online updating of attendance and grades.  I´ll also be following a book that Eclass has developed and supplementing with my own materials and activities as necessary, so it will be interesting to see how that works out.  I already have three classes with them and will be getting a few more next week, so I will be busy.

Wednesday was a holiday here, and so I invited Phoenix over for another gringo breakfast.  I´ve grown a bit tired of pancakes and decided to experiment with French toast.  On Tuesday evening I realized that everything was going to be closed on Wednesday, so I gave Phoenix a call to see if he could get the bacon and bread that night, and he told me he´d take care of it.

Well, let´s just say it was the start of an adventure involving visits to a lot of different food stores and mini markets.  As I was getting out of class at 8:15 that night, Phoenix sent me a text that he got to Jumbo (a huge grocery store here) too late and they were already closed.  I walked to the Lider across the street from my last class, and they were already closed too.  Phoenix checked out a few mini markets in his area, and as I rode the bus home I started thinking where I could stop on my way home.

Jumbo in Las Condes on my way home? Closed.
Lider on Pedro de Valdivia and Bilbao? Closed.

It was not looking good, but then I saw it:  A Big John was open.  For those who are unfamiliar, Big John is a mini market chain here.  After rushing in and exploring the store thoroughly, I came across a small loaf of white bread.  No luck on the bacon though.  Since I got off the bus a few stops early I decided to walk home from there.  The OK Mart and Santa Isabel were both closed, so I felt the impending doom of having a gringo breakfast without any bacon.

OK, I know that impending doom is a bit dramatic.  Perhaps hopeless despair is a better expression.

Just to be sure, Phoenix stopped at a few places on his way over on Wednesday morning.  His efforts turned out to be fruitless (or baconless if I may).  We were both so hungry that we forgot to take pictures of our food: scrambled eggs, papa duquesas (Chilean potato puffs), and French toast that I somehow managed to scramble.  Breakfast was followed up with a few hours of good conversation about our lives, past, present, and future. Click here if you´d like to check out his blog which he updates daily!

After a nap, I was ready for my next food adventure of the day: Taxco!  This begins customer service adventure #1.

I had made plans with a friend I hadn´t seen in a while.  She also likes Mexican food, and after my last foiled attempt trying to eat at Taxco I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to eat there.  To be 100% sure I wouldn´t be disappointed, I called them up the day before.  They assured me "si o si" (literally yes or yes) that they would be open on Wednesday despite it being a holiday.

Let´s just say that I had an underlying feeling that they would be closed.  And let´s just say that I was right.

The hopeless despair was almost too much for me to take for one day, but we ended up going back to my place and ordering Papa Johns.  While we waited for it to arrive, we caught up and watched Family Guy to pass the time.  (It took close to an hour and half!)  It was a good time in the end, and hopefully we´ll get to catch up once more before she goes back to the States at the end of June.

Customer service adventure #2 for the week took place at one of the local supermarkets, Montserrrat.  Last week I saw that they had Bailey's Irish Cream on sale, so I made a mental note to buy it the next time I was there.  In the alcohol aisle I asked a store clerk for a bottle of it, and he pointed me over to the information desk.  Once I got there, the clerk told me I had to go over to the alcohol aisle.  When I told him what they told me there he seemed confused and made an announcement over the loudspeaker for someone to come help him.  No response for a few minutes.  He once again asks for help, and eventually someone comes over.  This store clerk once again pointed me over to the alcohol aisle, and when I told him the same thing he then disappeared.

Five minutes went by, and a security guard saw me standing there and then asked me if I needed help.  I explained the situation to him, and he told me the key was right there at the information desk!  He went to look for it to no avail.  Then another clerk came along, and she told hin that she didn't have the key either.

Another five minutes later the clerk who disappeared came back with a few boxes of Bailey's from the back of the store.  I thanked him and then went to check out.

Well, you would think it would end here.  BUT IT DOESN'T.

It rang up for the full price of 9,190 pesos, which is about $18.  It was advertised in their flyer for 7,790 pesos, or about $15.50.  I didn't have enough on me to pay the full price, and I explained the situation to the cashier.

Of course she wasn't able to verify this on her own, so after a few people coming over and then checking the price over in the alcohol aisle they finally understood that they price I was telling them was in their flyer.  The fine print on the flyer indicated that it was a Mother's Day special, and therefore those prices were only valid from the 9th to the 12th of May.  I guess I'll have to wait for my Bailey's fix.  Darn!

Customer Service Experience #3 wasn't as bad or as long as the other two, so stick with me!

I tried going to an Entel store that was near my apartment to get internet on my phone a few days ago.  This would have been convenient since I didn't have time to go into downtown.  It turns out the location was closed for the day due to "fuerzas mayores", which literally means greater forces.  I guess there must be some type of divine intervention that doesn't want me getting internet on my phone.

My attempt to go to Mendoza again this weekend turned out to be another nonadventure.  My friend who is staying there for the month had a friend that was going to drive there, and so I was planning to go with her on Friday night and then come back on Sunday.

Well, it looks like the weather had other plans for me this weekend.  On Thursday night we got rain here in Santiago, and I had the feeling that it would travel to the border and result in snow in the mountains.  Sure enough, the border was closed on Thursday evening.  Checking the official website for border crossing between Chile and Argentina for updates on Friday didn´t bring us any good news.

So another nonadventure it is then.  I got to go to the gym, did some shopping at the farmer's market and grocery store, and later today I'll be working on the organization of my teaching materials.

I began this process last weekend, and to help pass the time I watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off and American Pie.  Here's what it looked like:

The headquarters of the operation
Each post it had a different grammar point to help me sort everything.
This wasn't nearly enough space sort everything.
Let me explain.  In the teaching profession in the States, you learn very quickly that you cannot only teach with the materials from the textbooks that you school provides.  In some situations you don't even have a textbook or the workbooks and accompanying materials.  So what do teachers do?  They seek out resources on the internet, find good teaching materials, share with others, and often spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pocket each year in order to provide their students with the best learning experience possible.

I have tried explaining this to fellow English teachers here that don't have teaching experience back home, and some of them don't understand or openly disagree with my binders full of materials I have compiled and books I have purchased.  I can totally understand people making the argument that I could store documents digitally, but unfortunately GoogleDocs distorts the settings and margins, meaning I'd have to reformat the document each time I use it.  Maybe it's just me, but there's a certain novelty of having a book in your hand as opposed to having a digital copy, and I find that if I buy digital resources I forget about and never use them.

Dpesite that, some teachers don't seem to think that finding resources, sharing ideas, and going to teaching conferences is something that they should be doing.  I tend to take it personally and feel insulted by their lack of respect and dedication to the profession, but rather than spend time with people like that I've decided it's just better to keep developing as a professional and spend time with teachers that share the same philosophy as me.

On that note, I should get home and do some more work organizing my materials and lesson planning.  It's a tedious process, but I know I will feel much better once it's over.  Thanks for reading and Happy Saturday everyone!